Netanyahu said exploring uniting Likud with other factions on right
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Netanyahu said exploring uniting Likud with other factions on right

As PM looks to grow size of his bloc, news site says his party has conducted polls to see how a unity list would fare in March 2 vote; Bennett, Smotrich discuss joint run

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting at the Knesset with parties in his right-wing bloc on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting at the Knesset with parties in his right-wing bloc on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Likud party chief Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly looking into a joint run with right-wing and religious factions in Israel’s upcoming national elections, as he warned Wednesday that some smaller parties on the right may fail to enter the Knesset if they do not join forces.

One possibility being considered would see all parties on the right — including the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties — run on a single slate as a “technical bloc,” the Walla news site reported Wednesday.

Under such an arrangement, the parties would not formally merge and could go their own ways after the March 2 vote.

The parties are already united under a negotiating bloc formed in the immediate aftermath of elections in September.

The second option, according to the report, would see a “broad union” between Likud and other factions on the right, minus UTJ and Shas.

Quoting an unnamed source familiar with the matter, the news site said internal Likud polls showed the second possibility would bring a better result in the elections for the right, but did not give any details on the results of these surveys.

Recent television polls have forecast Likud and its allies would fall short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the Knesset, similar to the previous two rounds of elections in the past year.

“The report is not true,” Likud said in response to the report.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with his right-wing and religious allies, in the Knesset on November 4, 2019 (Courtesy)

The news site did not specify which parties would be included in the merger under the second scenario nor whether it would include the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction, whose leaders include followers of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.

Over the weekend, Netanyahu tweeted the “right would not forgive” the leaders of three national-religious factions — Naftali Bennett of New Right, Bezalel Smotrich of National Union and Rafi Peretz of Jewish Home — if they did not run on a single list as they did in the last elections.

The tweet did not mention Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of Otzma Yehudit, who last month agreed to unite with Jewish Home.

Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir speaks at a campaign event in Bat Yam, April 6, 2019. (Flash90)

Ahead of elections in April, Netanyahu brokered a union of Jewish Home, National Union and Otzma Yehudit, a merger that was condemned by leading American Jewish groups.

He pushed for Otzma Yehudit’s inclusion in an alliance of the other three national-religious parties before elections in September, an effort that didn’t bear fruit. He later urged right-wing Israelis not to back Otzma Yehudit, saying their votes would go to the “trash” as the party would not clear the minimum electoral threshold.

Following the Walla report, Bennett and Smotrich met to discuss possibly running together in the elections, according to Hebrew media.

Also Wednesday, Benny Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White party, met with Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz to discuss political alliances ahead of the elections.

Gantz was urging Peretz to unite his center-left party with the left-wing Democratic Camp in order to ensure that neither party falls below the 3.25 percent electoral threshold for getting into parliament.

Peretz, meanwhile, tried to sell a more ambitious plan: a union across the spectrum of the center and left that puts Labor-Gesher, Democratic Camp and Blue and White on a single ballot slip on election day.

Gantz rejected the proposal, saying at a Blue and White faction meeting later in the day that his party “will not unite with any additional parties — not on the left and not on the right.”

Peretz’s proposal may be geared toward saving his party from political oblivion, as recent polls have shown it skirting the 3.25% threshold.

But he presented the idea as a way to offer despairing center-left voters a real chance of ending the political gridlock that has seen three elections scheduled in 11 months — and of finally unseating longtime premier Netanyahu in the March race.

Labor-Gesher party leader Amir Peretz and Blue and White party chairmen Benny Gantz meet in Jerusalem on October 28, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Peretz described his proposal on Tuesday as a test for Blue and White’s Gantz, and hinted that Gantz’s balking at such a union meant he preferred a government that still included Netanyahu.

On Wednesday, he doubled down on the challenge, saying, “The ball is now in Blue and White’s court.”

Rather than join a party to its left, Blue and White is reportedly planning to lean rightward in the coming campaign, with party leaders sensing an opportunity to win over centrist Likud voters dismayed by Netanyahu’s corruption indictments.

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